Chartered Institute
of Linguists

The drive of the freelance conference interpreter

By Diana Singureanu

It's natural to want to learn of global developments, but for conference interpreters, it's second nature. This is what excites me about conference interpreting: the fact that I am constantly learning about a variety of cutting-edge topics from biofuels, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, airplane engines to the population of carnivores in Europe. Chances are, I know more about the construction of bridges than the average person, and I find that strangely rewarding. Intellectual curiosity? An inquisitive mind? It doesn't matter. It's what I - what we - thrive on. 

On the other hand, there aren't any opportunities for promotion here - classic freelance work! - but this means we simply grow in another direction (maybe this thinking has something to do with my PhD on remote interpreting, but that's anyone's guess...). That's what conference interpreting is about: we're the ivy, and the world is our brick wall. 

At least in the private market, no two jobs are the same. This makes conference interpreting the perfect fusion of exciting and difficult: the 'difficult' part keeps us on our toes after all, and helps you stay focused regardless of travel fatigue. Unfortunately, it's not all rosy: organising your journey can be stressful, and I have long concluded that travelling itself is not always everything it's cracked up to be.

Nonetheless, to keep organisational stress at bay, I still try and cram a bit of sightseeing in, typically on the last conference day. My favourite memory? Walking along the sunny beach at Cascais in the late afternoon, perfect for making that day's booth seem a million miles away. I loved it there so much that I brought my family there on holiday - though to the beach, not that booth, thankfully. Remember to factor things like this in on your journey home (I'm still working on this, so you might well do a better job of it than me already). If anyone goes to Geneva, let me know what it's like – This year I've been there three times without seeing it. 

On that note, I should say that being away from home is not necessarily as lonesome as you might imagine. You will usually be working as part of a team, and if you have kids then “it’s good to have the opportunity to miss them”, as a witty colleague once joked. At least, I think it was a joke...

A conference assignment is also a great time to meet new colleagues or catch up with old ones. Many interpreters capitalise on the opportunity to exchange cards and make new contacts, which is fine as long as you remember to follow up with them. If you don't, you’re just another forgotten business card in a seldom-reached pocket.

Even if your spirits aren't that high when it comes to your team, listen out for the jargon-fuelled jokes - of which there are many; we're a funny bunch. Take this one: "do you know why the German delegates are the last ones to laugh at jokes? They're waiting for the verb." 

...they get better. Promise. Just don't make us interpret them.